John Barnes says ‘Liam Neeson deserves a medal’ in 2019
Barnes’ new book, ‘The Uncomfortable Truth About Racism‘, was published this week, and is tipped to stir the debate even further. Born and initially raised in Jamaica, Barnes moved to London when he was 12 years old in the Seventies. Aged 17, he joined Watford, before playing 296 games for them, scoring 85 goals, later signing to Liverpool where he played 314 games and scored 84 goals.
A legendary player, he has become better known in recent years for his arguments about racism and how he believes the world has fundamentally mishandled its understanding of it.
In his book, he talks of having bananas tossed at him on the pitch, and casual racism being thrown around the locker room — the latter of which he attributes to a culture rather than ill intention.
He has said that he is not an “apologist,” but rather: “I give balanced, constructive views and what happens is that bits and pieces of what I say are used against me. For a long time, John Barnes was seen as the voice of reason when it came to race. John Barnes hasn’t changed; what’s changed is the reporting of John Barnes.”
None was this stance more presence than when Liam Neeson became entangled in a racism storm after admitting he previously wanted to kill a black man.
John Barnes: The footballing legend came to Liam Neeson’s defence
England football: He made 79 appearances for England
It came during an interview with The Independent when the decorated actor revealed his friend had been raped by a black man, and his immediate reaction was: “I asked, did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person.
“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody – I’m ashamed to say that – and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [uses air quotes with fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.”
While not condoning his actions, Barnes defended Neeson, claiming he “deserved a medal” for admitting to his racism — something that Barnes believes most people will never do despite likely having at some point been racist.
He told Sky News that he respected Neeson for telling the truth about his feelings, and that “we are all unconscious racists“.
Liam Neeson: The actor previously admitted that he had wanted to ‘kill’ a black man
Neeson was talking about the subject of revenge, explaining why “revenge doesn’t do anyone any good,” Barnes said, and that the Hollywood star cannot be blamed for his thoughts at the time because “this is what society has shown him, that black people do, Muslims do – this is what society has wrongly shown him, this is what the media have wrongly portrayed to him”
Barnes said: “You cannot blame people for thinking Muslims, because of Muslim grooming gangs, Jamaican yardie gangs, then look at Muslims and Jamaicans in a negative light.
“And he’s admitting that that is the way he viewed it. So, for this one black person who raped this woman, he then looked at it from the perspective of all black people are rapists.”
He said that “as much as people are now jumping on this bandwagon of how terrible it is, what he has done is come out and he’s told the truth”.
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Sky: Barnes appeared on Sky shortly after Neeson’s comments and said he ‘deserved a medal’
The Uncomfortable Truth About Racism: Barnes has put argument forward on racism in society
He added: “The big problem we have is when people are afraid to admit the way they actually feel…
“I have more respect for him now than if he had come out and said, ‘I view all black people as equal, I just view everybody as equal’.”
The reaction to Neeson’s admission, he claimed, would make people “afraid to tell the truth on how they feel”, and said Neeson was the victim of a “witch hunt”.
The actor later appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America, and said: “I’m not racist.”
Pundit: Since retiring from football Barnes has been a regular pundit for matches
When asked what he wanted people to learn from his experience, he replied: “To talk. To open up.
“We all pretend we’re all politically correct in this country… in mine, too.
“You sometimes just scratch the surface and you discover this racism and bigotry and it’s there.”
Recounting the story of his friend who had been raped, he said: “If she had said an Irish or a Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian it would – I know it would – have had the same effect.
Celebrity news: Neeson later said he wasn’t racist
“I was trying to show honour, to stand up for my dear friend in this terribly medieval fashion.
“It shocked me and it hurt me. I did seek help.”
Last night, Barnes appeared on Celebrity Trash Monsters: What’s Your Waste Size?
You can catch up with it on demand at All 4.